Why Hurt People Hurt People

Photo credit: Freeimages.com
It is an old adage that says “hurt people hurt people.”

It is well known that those who have been emotionally damaged tend to inflict their hurt and pain on other people. For example, a large percentage of those who have been sexually abused become the abusers of others; those who suffered under an alcoholic parent often themselves cause their future family to suffer because of their drunken stupors.

Until we as a church deal with the whole person as shown in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 our congregations will be filled with people who are spiritually gifted but act like emotional infants. As in other words, the church must deal with emotional health and not just spiritual health and power.

The following are common traits hurt people display in their interactions with others.

1. Hurt people often transfer their inner anger onto their family and close friends.

  • Often those around them become the recipients of harsh tones and fits of rage because they have unknowingly become the vicarious recipients of transferred rage.

2. Hurt people interpret every word spoken to them through the prism of their pain.

  • Because of their pain, ordinary words are often misinterpreted to mean something negative towards them.
  • Because of this, they are extremely sensitive and act out of pain instead of reality.

3. Hurt people interpret every action through the prism of their pain.

  • Their emotional pain causes them to suspect wrong motives or evil intent behind other people’s actions towards them.

4. Hurt people often portray themselves as victims and carry a “victim spirit”.

  • Often hurt people can cry “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” or often use the words “unjust” or “unfair” to describe the way they are being treated, even if there is no truth to this. (That is not to say that sometimes there really is racism or sexism in some instances; this is just used as an example.)

Hurt people have a hard time entering into a trusting relationship.
Hurt people often carry around a suspicious spirit.

5. Hurt people often alienate others and wonder why no one is there for them.

  • They often continually hurt the ones they love and need the most with their self-destructive behavior.

6. Hurt people have the emotional maturity of the age they received their (un-dealt with) hurt.

  • For example, if a girl was raped by a man when she was 12 years old, unless she forgives that man and allows Christ to heal her heart and allay her fears, in that particular area of her life (sexuality with a man) her emotional growth will stop; even when she reaches her later years she may still have the emotional maturity of a 12 year-old.

7. Hurt people are often frustrated and depressed because past pain continually spills over into their present consciousness.

  • In many instances, they may not even be aware of why they are continually frustrated or depressed because they have coped with pain by compartmentalizing it or layering it over with other things over time.

8. Hurt people often erupt with inappropriate emotion because particular words, actions, or circumstances “touch” and “trigger” past woundedness.

  • I have been in situations with people in which there was a gross overreaction to a word I spoke or an action that was taken. Although I was shocked and thought this reaction came “out of left field” it was really the person responding to an accumulation of years of hurt and pain that could not help but spill over in various situations.
  • I myself have been in situations where I felt hurt, troubled, or overreacted to something because it touched a nerve with what I was still dealing with because of a wound I received in the past. In these situations I have attempted to reason through the situation as objectively as I can with much prayer and introspection so I would not say or do anything damaging to another person or myself.

9. Hurt people often occupy themselves with busyness, work, performance, and/or accomplishments as a way of compensating for low self-esteem.

  • Often ministers are not motivated by a love for Jesus but a drive to accomplish.
  • It is important that pastors and ministers be led by the Spirit instead of being driven to succeed.
  • A minister should not preoccupy himself with making things happen. He or she should walk in integrity and humility and allow God to open up doors and provide a ministerial platform according to their assignment for their life and ministry.

10. Hurt people often attempt to medicate themselves with excessive entertainment, drugs, alcohol, pornography, sexual relationships, or hobbies as a way to forget their pain and run from reality.

  • Until the church learns to deal with and emphasize the emotional life and health of the believer, the church will be filled with half-Christians who pray and read the Bible but find no victory because they do not face the woundedness in their souls.

11. Hurt people have learned to accommodate their private “false self” or “dark side” which causes them to be duplicitous and lack integrity.

  • Often their private life is different from their public life, which causes hypocrisy and compounds feelings of guilt, condemnation, and depression.

12. Hurt people are often self-absorbed with their own pain and are unaware that they are hurting other people.

  • They are often insensitive to other people because their emotional pain limits their capacity for empathy and their capacity for self-awareness.
  • I have been in numerous situations when someone hurt me and kept on going in the relationship without ever apologizing because they had no clue what they were doing.

13. Hurt people are susceptible to demonic deception.

  • I am convinced that most of the divisions in the church are caused by saints who lack emotional health and project their pain onto others.
  • Satan works in darkness and deception, and stays away from the light. Hurt people often have destructive habit-patterns that are practiced in the dark. Hence, their mind becomes a breeding ground for satanic infiltration and deception.
  • If the church would deal more with the emotional health of the individual, there would be less of a foothold for demonic infiltration. Also, there would be stronger relationships, stronger marriages, healthier children, and a more balanced approach to ministry with less of a chance of pastoral and congregational burnout.

14. God often purposely surfaces pain so hurt people can face reality.

  • Whether it is because of a marriage problem, or continual personal conflicts on the job, God often allows conflict and spillover because he wants the infection to stop spreading and the person to be healed.
  • Often Christians are fighting the devil and blaming him for conflict when in essence God often allows conflict so that people would be motivated to dig deeper into their lives to deal with root causes of destructive thought and habit patterns.
  • God’s purpose for us is that we would all be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). This does not just happen with Bible studies, prayer, and times of glory but also in painful situations when we have to face what has been hurting us for many years.
  • I have noticed that these periods of surfacing woundedness often take place when people transition into the mid-life years of their upper thirties and later. Perhaps this is because by then they are old enough to understand by experience that there is something wrong and also that it is not too late to redeem their pain and restore relationships and maximize their purpose. Rarely is a person able or even willing to deal with and face pain when they hit their senior years (in their sixties or older). Most at this age have already become cynical, hard-hearted, and/or become so depressed they have become hopeless even though God is able to help them at any age.

15. Hurt people need to forgive to be released and restored to freedom.

  • The Gospel of St. John 20:23 says that we have to release the sins of others if we are going to be released. This means that if we do not forgive others then the very thing we have become victimized with will become a part of our life. For example, alcoholic fathers breed alcoholic sons if their sons do not forgive and release their fathers.
  • The good news is that, through the efficacious blood of Christ, we can all be healed and set free from all past hurts so we can comfort others with the same comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Truly our mess can become our message!

The above article was written by Joseph Mattera. Joseph has been in full-time ministry since 1980 and is currently the presiding Bishop of Christ Covenant Coalition and Overseeing Bishop of Resurrection Church in New York, a multi-ethnic congregation of 40 nationalities that has successfully developed numerous leaders and holistic ministry in the New York region and beyond.

His passion is to see the Lordship of Christ manifest over every realm of society so the church can fulfill the cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28. This has resulted in extensive ministry nationally and internationally, reaching out to many nations of the world including the former Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Turkey, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Holland, Ukraine, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba. You can visit his web site to read additional articles written by Joseph Mattera by clicking HERE.

— ALSO —

A good resource we recommend, that may help you further in dealing with this type of situation would be, HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE, written by Sandra Wilson, published by Discovery House.

Another good resource we recommend you look into is, Boundaries in Marriage -written by John Townsend and Henry Cloud, published by Zondervan.


Filed under: Abuse in Marriage Communication and Conflict

Join the Discussion

Please observe the following guidelines:

  • Try to be as positive as possible when you make a comment.
  • If there is name-calling, or profane language, it will be deleted.
  • The same goes with hurtful comments targeted at belittling others; we won't post them.
  • Recommendations for people to divorce will be edited out–that's a decision between them and God, not us.
  • If you have a criticism, please make it constructive.
  • Be mindful that this is an international ministry where cultural differences need to be considered.
  • Please honor the fact this is a Christ-centered web site.

We review all comments before posting them to reduce spam and offensive content.


75 responses to “Why Hurt People Hurt People

  1. Thankful to Jesus that HE led me to this article. And thank you to the author. As others have said, this seems to mirror my relationship with my husband. He was abused in every way as a child. I truly wanted to be the one who saw him through his pain so he could forgive and escape. Unfortunately, 2 1/2 years later and he still thinks everything I do or say is meant to hurt him.

    He doesn’t trust me although I have been faithful and understanding. He now says we are done…again! (This isn’t the first occasion) He takes something I’ve said and goes from zero to totally p***end off in the snap of a finger. Hateful words, name calling, cussing loudly have hurt me so deeply!!!! I absolutely have not nor will ever do anything purposely to hurt him. He is so broken and I feel bad for him. He doesn’t realize how badly he has scarred me.

    Please, friends, pray for him. After reading this, I can forgive him. I love him and want him healed. This is only a brief summary of what’s going on but, I believe if you’re reading this you have come to this site for a reason and I ask God right this moment to comfort you as well. Any advice or encouragement?

    Gods peace, love, comfort and blessings to each of you. (I feel HIM as I read this article and write this release for myself.)

    1. I’m sorry you and your spouse are going through trouble. He reminds me of myself. Know that is very difficult for him to face the wounds from his life and marriage hurts toward you etc. Is he in therapy? Encourage him to continue. Go to some session with him, some he may want to get through alone. It just depends on the type of relationship you two have. It’s going to take time, sometimes we women want a quick work especially since the suffering has been great. If you truly love him and he’s doing his part it will be worth the wait. Pray and ask God how to lead you all in this process.

      Be Encouraged sis!

      1. Greetings from a brother. I am truly grieved by the pain that you’re going through, but the only thing that heals and has the power to restore is the truth. And God instructs us in 2 Corinthians 5:16 that the best way to deal with people is to not relate to them after the flesh (sinful behaviours) but to remind of the truth of who they are in Christ – holy, sinless, without blame.

        You are called to rightly divide who he is – spiritually one with Christ and incapable of sinning and then physically cursed with the sin nature and also having a soul (mind, will and emotions) that is hopefully in the process of being renewed. I adjure you by the mercies of God, never make a big deal out of his sinfulness but praise Him and lavish attention on him for all the things that he does right. Through this method he will eventually come to understand that the right behaviour will give him the attention and affection that he desires. And you can eventually wean him off of the bad behavior.

        As Paul said in Colossians, ‘if you then be risen with Christ seek (get excited about, set your affections on, focus on, reward, etc) those things that are from above. I know that this advice might be contrary to rational thinking but please practice this on yourself first and ask God about how Romans 8:1-2 apply to you and your relationships.

    2. Monica, When I read your comments about your husband, I had to make sure that we aren’t married to the same person. My husband was also abused as a child and I have been faithful, forgiving, and understanding for 18 years and we are only 37. It has only progressively gotten worse. We are separated, but everyday I pray for his healing. This article was on point and I am so thankful to have found it. If anyone is reading this, God certainly led you here for a reason. May the Lord continue to shine light into the darkness. God bless!

  2. This article is superb! I am a victim of someone who has been sexually abused. She uses me as a punching bag and literally takes everything I say and turns it around. I was beginning to think I was the confused one. I love her and I am always there for her. She has alientated me so now I can’t see my grandchildren. On your suggestion I just purchased the book Hurt people hurt people. Please pray for restoration in our family.

  3. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the actions of others. With this article it’s a little easier to identify some of the issues as it also points out common behavior attitudes of people that are hurt. With so much hurt in the world it seems impossible to do something, because one hurt person will hurt another person, and it looks like a never ending cycle. But by understanding the root of these things we can pray with more direction asking God to help us to deal with situations like this. May He gives us the right strategy, wisdom and revelation, so we may see the specific need of healing for others and in us, as well.

  4. I came to this article as I am now trying to answer the question, Did my alcoholic father know the hurt (deprivation, physical pain, emotional abuse) he inflicted on his family when he was drunk? I remembered the distinct moment when, as a teenager, I thought, This is not right. I am going to change this when I have my own family. And I did, for I did not pass on the hurt (at least, not knowingly).

    When my father was in a nursing facility, I realized that no matter what my father as a mean alcoholic had done, he didn’t deserve neglect and abuse. That’s why I exposed the family secret of alcoholism and wrote a book about my journey with him through his death in a nursing facility. I want everyone to be aware of what really goes on in some of those institutions. Some had commented that they see forgiveness in my story, and I was happy to know that I had forgiven him. Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father

  5. I thank God for your article. You have discreetly put into words many things that I’ve been contemplating over the years. I would like to add under the truth of many hurt people keep themselves busy, that not only ministers, as you had mentioned, like to keep busy, but there was no indication of everyday people doing the same.

    Many a ‘non-minister’ are also involved in day to day busyness to relieve themselves of not having the fog of inadequacy come creeping back into their thought life and then their emotional life.

    My own personal experience and the observed experience of others was to be busy going to church, reading a Christian book, listening to a sermon, helping those who are down and out, etc – all good actions – but at the neglect of the ‘real’ ministry – our mate/family members – with no benefit to the person doing it.

    Many times the motivation is to do these things to build up one’s low self esteem by performing good works that can be seen by others (the pharisee ‘legalist’s’ mentality). The person gets the applause of others and then ends up leaning on that applause like a cripple does his crutches. It is a mode of self preservation that the person becomes comfortable with and addicted to. On the outside they look righteous, but on the inside they feel empty and lifeless.

    As Paul said in Galatians, ‘Christ (the life-giving presence of Jesus -the anointing) no longer has any affect or blessing (life) in you because you are under a system of laws, rules and regulations.’ If a good deed done was not motivated by love, it will be nice at best to everyone who sees it, but to God it was just a bothersome noise (clanging bell, etc.).

  6. Since my comment of February 10, 2015, I have read Sandra Wilson’s book HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE. It is definitely written from a solid Christian perspective, and I heartily recommend it as a source of healing and understanding. My favorite takeaway sentence is, “Understanding a behavior does not make it acceptable.”

  7. I minister to many hurting women who have people in their lives that are tearing them down, yet they continue to allow them to remain in their lives. I was getting angry and couldn’t understand why they continue to remain. This article helped me to not only minister to them but to help them see truth and forgive their abusers. Thank you for sharing this information with us.

  8. I’ve been hurt so much in the past starting with my upbringing. My mother on drugs and father being an alcoholic didn’t make it any better; we were subjected to unhealthy situations lots of times.

    My dad and I never had a relationship up until he stopped drinking which was about when I was 20. Then we began to get close and at the age of 23 he passed away. I felt abandoned. I was hurting a lot, and during that time the only person I had to lean on was my other parent (my mom) who was so jealous of our (me and my dad’s) relationship she didn’t really give good advice to help me greive because of the bitterness she held in towards how he treated her in the past.

    My mother has been on drugs since I could remember; she also is bipolar so it makes it very difficult to be around her. I want that relationship but she makes it impossible. She’s said a lot of hurtful things and I’m hurt because she’s my mom and every kid wants that Special bond with their mother and I can’t have that.

    My siblings aren’t close because of our upbringing, so I really have nobody to turn to other than my spouse which I treat so badly because I’m so broken. It’s not fair to my spouse but I’m at a loss as to how to get past it. When they said hurt people hurt people it’s true!!

  9. My husband and I just got in a huge violent fight and it was because of me and my actions. I really needed to read this. Our whole marriage has been very violent and now he’s seeking other women and it’s tearing me up inside knowing every weekend, he’s with her. It makes me sick. He wants a divorce and I honestly think it’s tearing me apart inside.

  10. Amazing post. I have been married to someone diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder for 28 years. She was outgoing and vivacious while we dated. She was considerate and respectful. She paid attention to me and was always interested in a good conversation. One thing that I should have paid more attention to while we were dating was she would talk about how she hated her dad. She didn’t want to live anywhere near him. And although she enjoyed her sister and mother, she was not a fan of either brother either. When we got married she changed in one day.

    I was in my mid-twenties without a clue about things like transference. But all of a sudden she would mock me and berate me while we were driving. She would complain about what I ordered to eat, how I ate, walked, slept, everything. She started fights constantly. She was the most contentious woman I had ever met. We didn’t fight once while we were dating. Now it was every hour.

    In the second or third week we had some friends over for dinner. The wife was talking about how much she disliked her own father, and I was expecting my wife to join in, and to my surprise she said that she had a great father. I brushed it off to her trying to make an impression. But ever since we got married my wife has hated me and loved her father. 5 counselors since we have been married all came out of their first session with my wife threatening to get the police involved if there was any more abuse. Imagine how surprised and embarrassed they were when she eventually admitted to lying about the fact that I had abused her. Once the counseling focused on why my wife would lie about me calling me an abuser, she would quit and refuse to go back. This happened at both church and secular counselors.

    I recently was talking to a friend who talked about his counseling experience. His wife had been physically abused as a child and after months of therapy had determined that she had transferred her hatred for her father to her husband. Once she realized this fact, her behavior changed markedly. My friend described his experience on the front end of his wife’s change when they first got married and it sounded similar to my experience.

    My wife refuses to get counseling and demands a divorce. She has faked Christianity for 30 years now. Where can I read about transference and get some sort of evaluative measure I can give to any future spouse to avoid this absurd scenario in the future (just kidding about the test)?

  11. When offended by someone at a character attack what should be done? Do you address the hurt person?

  12. I was hurt physically and especially emotionally. Thus, I hurt my family and my lover and most of all myself. The most words that express what I felt are the next: ‘They are often insensitive to other people because their emotional pain limits their capacity for empathy and their capacity for self-awareness.’

    1. Sadly, we live in a fallen world. And as time goes on the enemy of our faith knows that time is short and is turning up the evil. Tragically, people are falling into temptation –even God’s people, who should know better. We’re told in the Bible in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 to, “understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…” We’re also told in the last part of verse 5 to, “avoid such people.”

      Of course, that is in the context of being whenever we can. There are obviously some people who act this way that we can’t avoid, but that doesn’t mean that we have to participate with them by sinning ourselves. We need to be careful not to allow ourselves to believe the lie that because we hurt so badly, solutions to do that, which we should not, is acceptable. It is not. God holds his followers to a higher standard (although we need to be careful not to be arrogant about it. It’s a mission, not something to brag about).

      We’re told in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” Easier said than done, yes. But not impossible as we put our hand into God’s.